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Saturday 18 May, 3:50pm
This time of the year always acts as a reminder of the importance of relationships and our connections with family and friends. There are a myriad of reasons why many people will find themselves alone during the festive season.
However, being alone doesnÂt equate to loneliness and we can equally be surrounded by people and yet feel lonely. The findings of a longitudinal study conducted over a 75 year period by Harvard University proves that social connections with others lead to health benefits and improve our longevity.
There is a direct correlation between the warmth of our relationships with family, friends and a connection with the wider community and healthier, longer lives. The converse is also true. Those who either don't have those connections or whose relationships are not rewarding are more likely to suffer more from ill health. One of the many reasons is that the quality of our relationships increases our immunity as well as our general levels of health.
Like me you may have left behind the demands of a busy career and the social connections and relationships related to it. Many of our relationships are associated with our careers and once we retire these relationships may not necessarily be appropriate any more. Furthermore, it may also be a time to rekindle relationships made earlier in our lives or to take the time to make new friends. It is never too late to build new relationships.
Although retirement brings with it the opportunity to pursue new interests and hobbies, it can also be daunting to know where to begin establishing new connections. As the Harvard study suggests being connected socially is vital for our health and well-being and therefore worth the effort.
There are so many things we can do for ourselves to stay connected with others and to avoid becoming socially isolated. Research also suggests that women are better than men at creating and maintaining social connections. You certainly have a head start over others. Having joined togetherfriends you know the value of friendship.
Retirement also provides the opportunity and the time to learn that new skill or take up the hobby you have always had a hankering to pursue. This can include learning a new language, drawing and painting, photography, take up walking, travel, join a book club and so the list goes on. Each one of us will have a different wish list and, of course, it creates further opportunities to make new friends. In fact, there are endless possibilities open to us, which can be daunting and paralysing in itself. Volunteering is another way of meeting new people whilst at the same time making a positive contribution in the lives of others.
Whether our careers necessitated the use of technology or not, it offers enormous opportunities for us to stay in touch with others. We can connect with family and friends around the world from the comfort of our own homes. So, for those not proficient with technology, it is another skill you can add to your wish list. There is a tendency to become set in our ways as we get older and the danger is that we lose our sense of adventure and therefore deny ourselves unexpected pleasures and experiences.
We must therefore be conscious to daily challenge ourselves to step outside our comfort zones and to do at least one thing every day that we wouldn't normally do. Not only will opportunities for new experiences arise, but it will also help us to keep an open mind and remain flexible in our approach to life.
Ultimately it is up to each one of us to ensure we stay connected with others and to fill our lives with rewarding relationships and activities.
I wish you all a happy Christmas and an adventurous New Year.
Angelique du Toit
Angelique is writing a book about the trials and tribulations of retirement and preparing for retirement. She is looking for stories, experiences and anecdotes from women who are in this situation. She would love to hear your own personal stories.